“So you’re going on holidays again over the Christmas break, dear?”
“Yes, Mum, you know I like to take the public holidays off and go camping with the kids”
“Will you be going on Boxing Day as usual?”
“I suppose so, that’s the best time. You know what a rush Christmas day is with all the presents and Christmas lunch and the rest. Its chaos!”
“Then I suppose I won’t be seeing you until after the holidays then?”
“Mum, Christmas is for kids. It doesn’t matter really whether I see you on that particular day or some other day over the break. I’ll come round to see you when we get back.”
“It’s just too hectic. All the preparations and organising, no I’ll come ‘round as soon as we get back from Port Stevens.”
“With the children?”
“Probably not they’re booked into tennis camp for a week and will be too absorbed in that to want to just sit around at your place.”
“Will you send me a text to let me know you have arrived safely?”
“Mum it’s only 150kms away but yes I will.”
A few more pleasantries were exchanged and Norah Laxton hung up the telephone. Her son only lived a few suburbs away in Turramurra but he never had any time to spare. He had been married 11 years now and in all that time he had never once seen her on Christmas day.
“Oh,” she thought to herself, “when I think of what Christmas used to be like.”
This brought a smile to her face.
“But things are different these days with both parents working full time. Maybe he is right. I am being too sentimental; perhaps Christmas is just for kids.”
Norah Laxton had lived alone for quite a number of years now and like many of the older generation she still hung on to the traditions of her younger days. Like the way she dressed; always smart even when she was going casual. Well groomed, her hair always in place and never without a little makeup to extenuate her features. And most importantly she kept her weight under control and within respectable limits. She was a firm believer that a person’s body was a reflection of their self-esteem and the confidence that they have in themselves. She was well liked in the neighbourhood; her refined manner and age commanding the respect of those who knew her. I suppose, that’s why people addressed her as Mrs Laxton and not the over-familiar Norah.
Christmas Eve came and Mrs Laxton was up earlier than usual. She had a lot to do. She sat at the kitchen table with a pen and her notepad and once she had put her glasses on, she began. Butter, Caster sugar, Plain flour, Rice flour.
“I should have enough trays if I do the same amount as last year.” She told herself. And so armed with her pull along carry bag she set off for Woollies two blocks away.
“I’ve been unable to find that nice metallic Christmas wrapping that you usually sell?”
“We’ll check to see if our Neutral Bay shop has any if you like?”
The manager was back in a moment.
“Yes they do. I’ve got them to hold 5 rolls for you.”
“Thank you, Young man.”
She was lucky, just as she got outside the store along came the 144 bus that would drop her at her to the next suburb.
It was well after lunch by the time that Norah got home, hot and flustered. A cool drink and a quick sandwich; there was certainly no time to put her feet up. This was her busiest day of the year and she was very excited!
She set the oven to 160 degrees c. and had all her ingredients ready on the table. She put the butter and sugar in a bowl and beat it until it was light and creamy. Then she added the plain flour and the rice flour, not too much, then with her hands she made it into crumbly dough. When she thought that looked like the right consistency she rolled it out with the rolling pin to about a ¼ inch thick. Then using a star shaped biscuit cutter, she cut the dough into shapes. “Much more Christmassy than the squares.” She muttered to herself.
It was then onto a lightly greased oven tray and placed in the oven for 25 minutes. When they were taken out they would be placed on a wire cake holder, fortunately she had several, to cool for an hour or so. Mrs Laxton felt rather pleased with herself.
“Only nine more to go!”
It was after 6pm before the baking was finished and both the kitchen and Mrs Laxton were very hot. But with all the doors open the strong easterly breeze, which had picked up, was cooling the place down somewhat. Armed with her special Christmas wrapping that she had gone to so much trouble to get, her sharp scissors and the special Christmas tape and of course her gift cards she sat down to wrap the shortbread. Firstly, she cut the metallic paper into neat squares. Then carefully putting six of her creations two by two she folded over one long side of the paper then the other long side using the tape to hold the two sides together, then one short side then the other short side were taped respectively. A small hand written card was threaded with a piece of red ribbon and was tied around the parcel and finished with a bow. This she did more than a hundred times.
It was getting dark now, but dear Mrs Laxton feeling very chuffed with herself, put on her Santa hat and with her pull along carry bag, full of presents, she started her rounds.
First up her side of Hayberry Street, carefully putting one of her lovingly prepared packages in every mailbox that she came to. Then around David street by the school and down Emmett street as far as the café on the corner. Then it was back up Emmett street on the other side, around David and then down the other side of Hayberry street.
It was on the way back up Hayberry Street that she began to feel a little faint and breathless and had to steady herself on a fence to pause and catch her breath.
“You O.K. Mrs Laxton? Had a little too much Christmas cheer?”
It was Ken, one of the neighbours from the townhouses in David Street.
“Oh I’m fine Ken just a little warm.”
“Here put your arm in mine and I’ll help you to your front gate.”
Which he did and opened it for her.
“Are you going to be right, do you want me to call someone?”
“No thank you I’ll be fine now. Merry Christmas Ken.”
“Merry Christmas Mrs Laxton.”
Once inside, Norah turned on the lights on the Christmas tree. She always bought a natural one even though they are a lot more expensive and certainly a lot messier, the way that they drop their needles on the floor. But it’s the smell of fresh pine escaping through-out the house that just seemed to create that festive atmosphere. Perspiring, tired and exhausted the worn-out Magi poured herself a glass of her best Pinot Noir and sat down in her favourite chair and watched the flashing lights of the decorated tree.
“Merry Christmas, Norah Laxton.”
And she took a sip of the smooth drop and as she settled in that Christmas Eve. She remembered how things used to be and sighed.
“I suppose everything has to change eventually.”
She said to herself philosophically.
Then she smiled and thought of how her little token of anonymous Christmas caring will perhaps make a few more people feel a little more loved and cheerful.
Ken had just got back from his Christmas break on the 4th when he met Fiona Lawson in the street.
“Happy New Year Fiona.”
“You too Ken. Have you heard the news about Mrs Laxton?”
“No?” He replied questioningly.
“The police had to break into the house this morning because the neighbour complained of the burning smell and they found poor Mrs Laxton dead sitting in a chair. It seems she had been dead since Christmas Eve and if it hadn’t been for the Christmas tree lights overheating and burning the tree nobody would have found her for months.”
“What a shame. I’m pretty sure that she didn’t have any family.”
“The police said they hadn’t had any enquiries about her.”
“Yes she was a pleasant old dear.”
“Well we have at least discovered who our Santa Claus is each year. The police found some cards with Merry Christmas from Santa Claus; who’d have thought?”